Category Archives: Human landscapes

Future Landscapes II: Seascape minus…

Seascape Minus Chip Mill

Seascape Minus Chip Mill

The woodchip mill on the southern end of Twofold Bay (at Edrom Point) is operated by South East Fibre Exports (formerly Harris-Daishowa), a subsidiary of Nippon Paper Industries. Despite declining production due to the high value of the A$, economic problems in Japan, and cheaper alternatives in other countries, forestry remains a significant employer in the region – and a major contributor to the local economy.

The facility itself isn’t open to the public, but you can get a good view of it from the adjacent large naval wharf (built in 2003, primarily to load naval vessels with munitions from the Explosives Ordnance facility on Edrom Road).

The future of the woodchip mill and its associated bulk loading terminal is uncertain. This image imagines a future landscape in which all traces of pulp mill at Edrom Point have disappeared, and the site has been fully ‘remediated’. The evidence of the site’s former purpose now only exists in the form of an image on a flag which billows overhead.

Seascape Minus Fish

Seascape Minus Fish

As with the Seascape minus chip mill image, this picture was taken on the naval wharf at Edrom Point, on the southern shore of Twofold Bay. The background shows the huge piles of wood chips stockpiled at the SEFE mill and bulk loading terminal.

In the foreground, on the railing of the wharf, is a chart to advise recreational fishers of the size and bag limits for each of the fish species found locally.

The image imagines a future in which many of those species are no longer available, or else no longer allowed to be caught – due to overfishing, fish stock depletion due to climate change, or other causes.

Future Landscapes: The South East Coastal Adaptation Project

Some new work. I’ve just completed work on series of images as part of a project with the ANU School of Art ‘Environment Studio‘. The project, which is continuing, involves around 25 artists from across all of the School’s workshops (e.g. painting, sculpture, printing, woodwork, glass – AND photography). Each artist is to create works inspired or informed by the issue of climate change and its future impact on the small communities of south-eastern Australia (from Wollongong, NSW through to Lakes Entrance in Victoria).

This art project is conducted as an adjunct to a bigger project – ‘South East Coastal Adaptation’ (SECA) – which is funded through the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility. Here’s how they describe their project in their final report:

“Coastal Urban Climate Futures in South East Australia from Wollongong to Lakes Entrance is an investigation into possible coastal urban futures to 2030 and beyond. The study focus is on coastal adaptation in the context of climate change. It is broad in its scope by considering environmental, social and economic change in the south east coastal region. It has a multi-disciplinary approach to the spatial and temporal dimension in considering action on the ground. It involves seven local government areas (Wollongong, Shellharbour, Kiama, Shoalhaven, Eurobodalla, Bega and East Gippsland), two states and several regional organisations and explores some of the critical governance issues.”

Anyway that’s all by way of background. It’s a worthy, rigorous and invaluable study. But the important thing (at least from the point of view of this blog post) is the art – and specifically. my own photographs.

Humpback flight

Humpback flight (2013)

Living in Canberra, I spend a bit of time down in the coastal region covered by the study, making photographs.  Earlier this year I also participated in two field trips down to the area from Merimbula to Mallacoota, exploring towns, national parks and forestry roads, eventually returning home with around 1400 photographs.

I selected a number of images for processing, some compositing of images, overlaying of text etc, and ended up with a couple of dozen final images that I’m pretty happy with. You can see the full set of them at this link . I’ll put some more posts up over the coming days to go into a little detail of the thoughts and photographic processes behind some of the images.

Fishery sunset

Fishery sunset (2013)

If the Land Could Speak

I met ‘The Land’ in a dream. He looked to be about 35, average height, with dark hair slicked back from a smooth broad forehead, pencil-thin moustache and sideburns. Good teeth.

He was wearing a shiny blue suit, pastel pink shirt and a tropical tie. All in all, he looked like a caricature car salesman. I must have seemed a little nonplussed; I guess I had imagined The Land to appear as a wise old Methuselah-type character in robe.

“What did you expect?” He asked. “This is your dream. So I can be a tree or a rock or a river if you’d prefer, but that would make conversation rather difficult, don’t you think?” Fair point.

“Anyway, this is my turn to be one of you humans, since one day you all come back to being part of me, part of The Land. Dust to dust and all that, eh?” He started to giggle, but I didn’t think it was all that funny. He had a boomy deep voice that didn’t gel with his spivvy appearance.
He pulled up a chair – an Eames Lounge Chair, I noticed with some surprise – and settled down into it with a sigh.

“The trouble with you humans” he said, “is that you look around, and see everything around you as other little people. You think everything’s got a personality, human desires and foibles. See – you’re doing it to me now in this dream!”

He leant back in his chair, his feet crossed on the ottoman. “According to you, it’s like the weather has good and bad moods, the plants have desires, you see faces in the clouds – and you even think that animals are your friends. Even cats!” This last word came out like a minor explosion. “And as for your gods: well you’ve even made them in your own image. ‘Uber-humans’ – just like people, only more so!”

I wanted to speak – I had burning questions like: “Where am I?” and: ” How much did you pay for that chair?” – but before I could get a word in, he continued:

“But that’s not why I got you here. Sit down, make yourself comfortable, I’m going to tell you a story.” I looked around, for the first time noticing (as you do in dreams) that we were in a huge empty hall, with black-and-white tiles chequered on the floor. There were no other chairs, so I just shifted my weight and folded my arms.

The Land smoothed down his moustache, apparently collecting his thoughts. “The story’s about Me. Apparently I’ve been around for 4.3 billion years. With a few hiccoughs, it all went pretty smoothly really, until just recently. You know: Earth formed, earth cooled, atmosphere, oceans, life – you know the plot. But it wasn’t ‘progress’ – that’s another one of your peculiar ideas, like ‘happiness’. It was just change, not heading anywhere in particular. Things were… well, just things, coming and going as things do.”

“And then you lot came along, writing and talking and talking and writing. Non-stop, changing everything that’s real in the world into a torrent of endless chatter. You’ve covered up the world with words. ‘Landguage’, I call it. ‘Textscape’. All your stories, your hopes, your plans, your petty miseries, all projected out onto me, till you can’t see me for all the jumbled layers of text. I look in the mirror and barely recognise myself anymore.” (But I recognised him: he looked just like the guy who sold me that P76 forty years ago.)

“But it’s not just the words, you know. It’s all the bloody pictures, too. For half a millennium you reckon you’ve been doing portraits of Me – drawings, paintings, etchings, photographs, you name it. Landscapes: ‘sublime’, ‘picturesque’, beautiful’- I should be flattered, but actually it gets right up My nose. My metaphorical nose, that is.”

“Because that’s not Me in all those pictures, you know. It’s you. More little people that you’ve created, this time on canvas, paper and screen. They say next to nothing about me, and everything about you. ##And that’s because – if I can pinch a quote from one of your better chatterers – ‘there is nothing either sublime or picturesque, but thinking makes it so’.”

“The fact is: “The map isn’t the terrain; and the landscape isn’t the land.“

With that, he paused, gazing abstractedly towards his feet on the ottoman. Then, with another sigh, The Land stood up, looking me squarely in the eye. I hadn’t said a word yet, but I had the feeling that our meeting was over.

“Oh, I nearly forgot – just one last thing before you go” he said. “Could I possibly interest you in a very fine pre-owned automobile?”

Landschap, landskip and landscape

The Dutch said it first. Around 1500, they began to use the noun landschap to describe a new kind of artwork depicting ‘natural inland or coastal scenery’. It spread to use in other Germanic languages (e.g. as lantscaf, landschaft, landskap), and appeared in English (first in the form of ‘landskip’), by the 1590s.

Land is, unsurprisingly, an ancient word. It was used (in the form of londe) by the Venerable Bede, and its form varies little across the Indo-European languages, indicating much older and deeper roots. The –scape part has the same etymology (according to the OED) as the noun ‘shape’, meaning form, condition, or configuration.

But in contemporary usage, landscape has acquired additional meanings. It is used to denote a tract of land, to refer broadly to the visual environment and, through combination with adjectival qualifiers, we speak of ‘urban’, ‘natural’, ‘political’, ‘intellectual’ and other landscapes. As a verb, it refers to altering or shaping the land. My interest, however, remains with its original application i.e. to visual art.

Giorgione. La Tempesta (The Tempest), c1506. Oil on canvas.
“The first landscape painting”?!

It’s a fuzzy word. Its meaning shifts according to usage, causing it to carry tones of other, closely- or distantly-related concepts. Words like: ‘terrain’, ‘environment’, ‘topography’, ‘country’, ‘place’, ‘location’, ‘situation’, ‘setting’, ‘site’, ‘surroundings’, ‘countryside’, and even ‘land’. Or visual words like ‘scenery’, ‘view’, ‘prospect’, ‘vista’, ‘panorama’, ‘outlook’, ‘background’.

In art, landscape is always primarily about culture, not nature. Though it may be counterintuitive to say it, ‘The Landscape’ hasn’t always been with us, waiting to be discovered by artists of the Renaissance. In fact, the word denotes a purely cultural construct, which could only arise alongside a humanist, rationalist, scientific and increasingly secular attitude to the world – and ‘modern’ modes of economic, social and political activity. It reflects a new paradigm in the relationship of humans (both individually and collectively) to the world outside them – which began quite specifically in Western European societies of the 15th and 16th centuries.

Altdorfer, Albrecht. Landscape with a footbridge, c. 1518-20. Oil on panel.
“The first ‘pure landscape'”?!

The word describes both a genre (‘landscape’) and its instantiation (‘a landscape’). On closer examination, some connotations can be discerned. Firstly, selectivity. Conventionally, a landscape artwork isn’t just a randomly captured view of the natural world. Rather, it has been framed, interpreted and executed (in the attempt) to generate aesthetic pleasure in the viewer. This may be mediated by way of a pleasing visual composition of elements, through symmetry, repetition of forms, colour harmony or contrast.

Secondly, there is the experience of vicarious travel, as the viewers project themselves into the depicted landscape. In such pictures, where the landscape is the subject rather than merely the setting, the viewer’s pleasure derives from immersion, from ‘virtual’ travel to a location perhaps more interesting than their current location, and the opportunity to (safely and conveniently) experience the distant and exotic.

Related to this is a third characteristic: the viewer’s emotional response. The viewer of a landscape artwork may experience feelings of tranquillity, harmony, absorption, excitement, awe, or even terror. In fact, landscapes are conventionally categorised according to their emotional impact on the viewer rather than their location or purely physical attributes. So we can talk of landscape categories of the Beautiful, the Picturesque, the Sublime, Pastoral, Heroic, Georgic etc.

The ‘scope’ of landscape is limited, as in many ways the experience of viewing landscape is quite superficial. Only the sense of sight is (directly) involved, and only the visible surfaces of landscape objects are (directly) perceived. Unlike ‘real’ experience of the world, there is rarely a sense of change or passing time. And the frame excludes all but a small window on the world, precluding full engagement with the land depicted.

Adams, Robert. Mobile Homes, Jefferson County, Colorado. 1973.
From the ‘New Topographics’ exhibition

The notion of landscape in art has had many manifestations, and continues to shift (evolve?) with the cultures that generate it. Recent  practice in ‘serious’ landscape art has often used the genre to comment on the social construction of our view of the external world, challenging assumptions underlying the traditional landscape image. The focus has shifted: from ‘pure landscape’ depictions or evocations of the ‘natural world’, to being explicitly about the manner in which human societies relate to, transform, contest or exploit that world. Human interventions in shaping the visual landscape are often dominant. Consequently, much of what we now readily accept as landscape would not be recognised as such by a 16th Century Dutch painter of landschap.

Jack the Rammer

Jack the Rammer

Jack the Rammer Click to view larger image

The Bushranger is an iconic figure in the mythology of colonial Australia. They still appeal to our sense of national self-identity because we see them as being brave, independent, charismatic, anti-authoritarian, and resourceful. Underdogs, tragic heroes. Just like we’d like to imagine ourselves to be. The reality is that most lived pretty sordid and short lives, and were often quite unpleasant and disloyal in their personal affairs – more ‘squalid hood’ than ‘Robin Hood’.

Bushrangers were active in the Monaro region during two periods of the 19th Century. Firstly during the late 1820s and ’30s, when most were escaped convicts, and then again around the early 1860s while the gold rushes were in full swing at places such as Kiandra and Araluen. For a few months at the end of 1834 “Jack the Rammer”, along with fellow gang members Edward Boyd and Joseph Keys, ranged across the Monaro. Jack the Rammer, a.k.a. “Billy the Rammer”, is believed to have been William Roberts, who was transported in 1833 from Dudley his native Worcestershire after being convicted for stealing a bucket.

(A personal coincidence here: my great-grandfather William Rial was born a short way from Dudley in the village of Hallow, and was himself transported in 1835, and assigned to work at Wanniassa station, just to the north of the Monaro).

After escaping with Joseph Keys from Goulburn Jail in September 1834, Roberts and Keys joined up with Boyd, and the three began a series of nocturnal robberies on stations of the Monaro, including Coolringdon, 10km southwest of Cooma. In the course of holding up Rock Flat station in mid December, The Rammer was shot and killed by the station overseer Charles Fisher, who was himself shot, beaten and left for dead by the other two outlaws. Boyd was shot dead by a trooper in mid-January while trying to escape across the Snowy River, and Keys was captured two days later at Jimenbuen, tried and hung in June 1835. Like many bushrangers, the gang had a short, bloody and spectacularly unsuccessful career.

The base photograph for this image was taken on the Springfield Road, not far from Coopers Lake, not too far south of where ‘The Rammer’ met his end. The newspaper text (from the Christchurch Star, 8 April 1879) is a lurid account of the exploits and demise of the Rammer Gang.



Railway Click to view larger image

Even before the time that the railway reached Goulburn in 1869, there were calls for the line to be extended into the Monaro. The line to Cooma (through Queanbeyan, Michelago, Bredbo and Bunyan) was eventually opened in 1889, with later extensions through to Nimmitabel (1911) and Bombala (1921).

The arrival of the railway had a huge social and economic impact, and really served to ‘open up’ the region to the outside world. However, despite a boom during the construction of the Snowy Scheme, when Cooma was the base of operations, the line always ran at a loss. (One justification for the railway had been that it would allow for shipment of wheat grown in the Monaro to other markets – but it had quite the opposite effect, with the marginal Monaro grain unable to compete with the cheaper wheat that could now be shipped in from other regions.)

Cooma Railway Station 1925

The line closed in 1988 – exactly one hundred years after its establishment. The billboard signs now have no rail passengers to talk to (though they still ‘serve’ the adjacent highway traffic).

We tend to look at billboards in terms of the messages they display, rather than as large constructions plonked onto the landscape. They (almost) never draw attention to themselves as objects. We are so accustomed to their presence as we travel that we don’t really take notice of their physicality either.

In this image, a scene along the closed Cooma rail line, the signs have nothing to say about fast food outlets, ski resorts or car repairs. Their only function is to declare their own ‘sign-ness’.

George Augustus Robinson

George Augustus Robinson

George Augustus Robinson Click to view larger image

George Augustus Robinson travelled across the Monaro in 1844, in the course of his duties as ‘Chief Protector of Aborigines’ for the Port Phillip District. The journal that he kept during that journey provides some great insights into the lives of the early European settlers , the Ngarigo people whose land they ‘settled on’, and the attitudes of the time.

In the extracts incorporated in this image, he wrote:
5 July1844…called at Injebyrer, Mr Boyd’s station formerly Mr Robert Cunningham’s station… Boyd’s hut miserable looking; the hutkeeper dirty cursing character stood with hands in pocket. Could not give me information; did not know road; left the ticket of leave man at Injebyrer hut with frostbitten feet. Passed tree marked Boyd 42; crossed a range called the Pinch; descended to plain saw two emus; passed Paton’s station, killed short time previous, fall from horse; met and spoke to Mr Woodhouse going to his station at Soogum boogum at Snowy River…Called at Fincham at Jindabine Meadow stopped for night… Several white men have had children by native women, two white men of this character were accidentally shot by drawing guns from drays…

6 July 1944 Sent card to natives on Snowy River by Mr Kirk… came to Karrut, Joe Varney’s station… came to range descending to a new view of Monaro with its bare hills and undulating grassy surface spread before us as far as the eye could see…

7 July 1844 Frosty last night. Seven men, women and girl visited this afternoon, alias Old Tom (chief) among them; the rest were firm young men; gave each handkerchief and some medals; took their names and names of all the natives of the tribe. The language is the same as the Omeo Blacks. A messenger from Limestone near Yas was with them; took census of Limestone natives… obtained names of localities… called at Brooks gentlemanly run; returned p.m. to his station, Mrs Brooks came to dinner.

8 July 1844… horses astray busy writing; Mr Brooks not returned; Maneroo natives left country bare evidence of villainous action;… 10 July 1844 … horses astray; went with Robinson to see where natives had burnt a corpse sometime previous; it was distant half mile from hut in an old hollowed tree in wooded ranges facing south east. The body had been wrapped up; hole cut into tree which was two inch thick 18 inch hollow inside; body was dropped down to bottom, covered in boughs and grass and two large stones put on it and a green bough standing upright (a primitive sepulchre). … about dusk reached Wonjellic Mr Boyd’s cattle station formerly Clendindorp’s (12 miles from Pinchgut), stopped for night…

11 July 1844 … thence over four miles of grassy downs to Mr Boucher’s station; Mr Pryce small man like my brother… informed me he counted seven half caste children among the blacks at Twofold Bay. A married man has one at Delegate which he had by a native woman and he wanted it baptized; he can say the Lord’s Prayer write, bishop to know… 13 July 1844 … Mr Barber had Maneroo blacks; got bark and two men were killed by Bega blacks; Maneroo blacks killed two men Queenbeers sometime ago so Mr Robinson…

He base image was take as the dawn fog was lifting on the outskirts of Dalgety.

And the Country Was Taken Up

And the Country Was Taken Up

And the Country Was Taken Up Click to view larger image

Kate Grenville tells the story that, when she was in London researching for her novel The Secret River, she had a conversation with writer Melissa Lucashenko. She explained that she was in London looking for information about her ancestor Solomon Wiseman, who “took up land on the Hawkesbury River”.  Lucashenko, who is of mixed European and Murri (Aboriginal) heritage, replied: “What do you mean ‘took up’? He took!”

In Searching for the Secret River (p.28-9), Grenville goes on to distinguish the two expressions:

“Took up: you took up something that was lying around. You took up something that was on offer. You took up hobbies and sports
Took had many more possibilities. You took something because it was there like a coin on the ground. You took offence or flight or a bath. Or you took something away from someone else.”

Writings by and about the squatters, selectors and settlers who moved into the Monaro region from the 1830s onwards frequently refer to them as having ‘taken up’ land. In the early days following European arrival the process was simple. In an 1892 article in the Monaro Mercury Bernard O’Rourke, who arrived in the region in 1834 described how they were guided to suitable land by the local Aboriginal people.

“They ‘would yabber about a big fellow station out there’… and the settlers desirous of increasing their territorial possessions, would implicitly go after them. In the course of a few days or weeks the ‘promised land’ hove into sight, and there the land grabbers pitched their tents and regarded that as ownership of the many acres which appeared to serve as a panacea for their adventures”

In this image I’ve sought to make the notion of ‘taking up’ the land as real and as solid as the homesteads that they built upon it. The ‘text homestead’ hovers a little above the ground, as a little visual pun on ‘taken up’.

The picturesque ruined farmhouse was photographed on the Ironmungy Road south of Dalgety.